The Sales Experience

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3 Core “Abilities” of Sales Leaders

October 1, 2014

Revenade Managing Partner, Scott Williamson, and Revenade Manging Director, Tim Phillips, discuss the 3 core “abilities” every CEO, business owner and sales leader desperately needs for sales success.


Hello, and welcome to the first episode of the Sales Experience. A semi-monthly podcast where we will share insights, lessons learned and best practices from top sales leaders. Each episode will provide experience based information that you can immediately apply to help your company grow its top line.

Stephanie:         My name is Stephanie Jordan and I’ll be your guide this week for success strategies in the world of sales. Today, I’ll be talking with two of Revenade’s sales leaders about the three core abilities every CEO, business owner, and sales leader desperately needs for sales. Let’s start with a brief look at this day in business history, where we highlight a key event that took place on this day.


                          On this day in history, Charles M. Schultz introduced the world to the much beloved Charlie Brown comic strip. Charlie Brown and the Peanut's gang have since been used in the marketing world to boost for sales in such companies as Chex Mix, Bounty, Cheerios, Ford Motors, Kraft Foods, and even Met Life. In the sixty four years that the Peanuts cartoon has been running, it has brought considerable joy to both the readers and the marketing teams that have been lucky enough to snag the rights their images. I'm not so sure if Mr. Schultz knew he was creating a sales and marketing juggernaut when he first sketched the silhouette of Charlie Brown, but it just goes to show that even the most hapless of characters can be sales champions. If they're likeable and hopeful, that next time, they might just win, provided they keep their eye out on the football.

Now I would like to take a minute and introduce Scott Williamson and Tim Phillips from Revanade. Scott Williamson is the founder of Revanade and serves as the firm’s managing partner. For over 25 years he has helped companies throughout the world develop and execute strategies that accelerate profitable revenue growth. His partner at Revenade, is none other than Tim Phillips, who serves as the managing director. Tim brings over thirty years of professional leadership and executive experience. As well as immeasurable knowledge and expertise in the sales arena. Thank you both so much for joining us today.


Scott:                 Thanks Stephanie.

Tim:                    Thanks Stephanie, so great to be with you.

Stephanie:         Great! In looking at Revenade's website and YouTube channel, I see you have developed a tool called the Enterprise Sales Predictability Model. At its core are three elements or abilities that every CEO business owner and sales leader needs to run his or her business. Scott, perhaps you could share with our listeners what you and Tim mean by this?


Scott:                 Sure, Stephanie. You see business leaders have an extremely difficult job in that they are under a tremendous amount of pressure, they have to make decisions without the full amount of data, sometimes they have too much data that they have to make, the thing is that not all of this is in their control, they've got people, they got processes, they got technology, and they can't control all of this and yet somehow they have to make a decision about the future before the future actually happens.

Tim:                   Yeah, and you know the other thing, Stephanie is that we, through the shared experiences we've all had…all the parts that Scott just described is-you also have marketing conditions, you have competitor moves, and what we are really looking to do is finding the three- what we call-abilities and for working with a wide range of business leaders and their CEO's and sales executives the three things that they all desperately want and need are what we cast as the three abilities are: visibility, reliability, and then ultimately predictably. So that we can make informed decisions. It's almost as if having a form of extra sensory perception or ESP, and that what helps us to be able to forecast the future with greater accuracy.

Scott:                 We all know how difficult it is to forecast, I mean think about the weatherman, or the or whatever it is, this is an entire profession that's been around for many, many decades. You have people whose entire lives on just forecasting the weather for tomorrow, and yet, they're only right about 50 percent of the time. In fact think of another profession where you're only right 50 percent of the time, and yet somehow you are hailed as a hero. The average sales leader if he or she's only right 50 percent of the time, is going to find himself or herself out on the streets, unemployed. So, think about those times when the weather forecast came out saying it was going to be bright and sunshiny yet, you spent the entire day in the rain.

Tim:                   Yes, and I think one of the things that we've had in our experience, professionally, and one of the most stressful things, that any sales leader has to do as part of their role responsibility is to provide a forecast that the rest of the enterprise and the executive team is basically building all of the decisions on going forward. With that, there's pressure, there's stress as so, as a result of that, we need to become better in terms of how we forecast and so we do that with better predictability and reliability moving forward.

Scott:                 Again, if you think of the whole process of forecasting, CEO, chief operating officer, MVP of sales, are all under this pressure you're talking about, Tim, to make sure they get the numbers right. They don't have enough data, or they have too much data, and they just don't really understand what they're supposed to do, to be able to predict what’s going on. The VP of sales, there's added pressure because the VP of sales is the first line of insight and visibility into what our top line is going to be in the next month, the next quarter, the next year.

Tim:                   Yeah, and then spinning off of that is not only the top line, but how are in terms of operating as far as determining the margin and the most important measure at the end of the day quite simply, is cash. Do we have enough cash flow to make investments? Can we make payroll? Do we put money in the bank?

Scott:                 Right so, a lot of times, we've got a VP of sales and his team and they sandbag the numbers. They think, okay we'll come in and add a forecast that's lower than what we think it's going to be. That's equally as bad.


Stephanie:         Alright, that makes perfect sense, but these sound like pretty fundamental, some might even say basic tenants. Tim, why do you think it's to enforce these tenants and more important, what are some of the common mistakes you see businesses and sales leaders making when considering or perhaps, not considering these tenants?


Tim:                    I think that is probably the best question of the day Stephanie, and quite frankly, sales leaders, CEO's, and anyone who is making a forecast, is-we're human beings, and predictability and forecasting is not a science- but it's an art. As we gather experience, we become better, we then should hopefully, start to develop better forecasting ability. We look at this in terms of the human side there are really four levels of learning or capability or competency and very simply, we start at level one which is an unconscious incompetent. We really don't know what we are doing and moreover, we don't know what it is we are supposed to be doing.

So we are blithely going through life in the case of forecasting what that manifests itself into is people are making wild ass guesses. There also just picking numbers out and hoping that's going to be the number or their getting pressure from up above and the boss is saying ,"We've got to have this number to do these things" and so we say, " Yeah, sure, that's going to be the number." The other two levels that you find that you move out of though, as you become more experienced, is you become a conscious incompetent. I really don't know what I'm doing, but at the same token, I have consciousness and awareness that I don't know what I'm doing, therefore, usually people will go seek help, or they'll ask for guidance or they'll bring in a coach to help them do that. The third level, that's the conscience competent, that's the case where-I'm working through this-I'm getting better, and I'm trying to become ever more proficient in what I'm doing through experience. The fourth one I'm going to let Scott talk to you about that one. This is one that's equally as dangerous as the unconscious incompetent.

Scott:                 Actually, that’s a good point, I think that it's most dangerous one. That's the one who the persons been doing a particular job for so long that they don't know they're good at what they do, they just sort of do it. That's why I guess you would call this the unconscious competent. That person is, again, just not aware of why they, excuse me, how they do what they do, they just get results. So, as from VP of sales point of view what you see is VP of sales, who are making decisions about forecasts and they are not really looking at the data. Now, I might take a little bit of exception to what you said earlier, Tim, I think forecasting, I think prediction, is both an art and a science. Not one or the other, so, the unconscious competent, is the person who is just seeing it as a gut feeling at this point. They've seen these scenarios over and over at this point, and they know why the answer is, but they can’t tell you what’s the data backing that up.

                          The other thing with that type of person is they’re not fully aware of and have visibility of the data and the reliability of the data and the ability, they can’t teach that to other people. So you can’t learn from somebody who doesn’t know why they do what they do. You can’t just say hit the ball better. You have to tell somebody how you go about hitting the ball.

Stephanie:         Oh, that’s super interesting. I’m guessing this is why you developed your enterprise sales predictability model to help people and companies have some kind of framework for correcting these basic challenges with something other than gut feeling guesses. Scott, can you give us a quick background on this model and help us understand how this can help business and sales leaders increase visibility, reliability, and even predictability related to sales.

Scott:                 Yeah, absolutely. So you know Tim and I are sitting here today and we may sound like we are waxing on philosophical about all this stuff, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve been there and we’ve made the mistakes that we’re talking about. You can’t be a sales professional whether you’re a direct sales seller type person, indirect, or sales leader, and not have made some of these mistakes, and so what we’re trying to do at Revenade and what we’ve done through our analysis of our existing clients as well as looking at, you know, just other companies out there on the market, is find a way in which we can better deal with what we call this ability challenge and find a way in which we can form some sort of a model that provides greater visibility, reliability, and predictability. Tim, I know that you’ve done a lot of work specifically around the people process technology side.


Tim:                   Yeah, the three points of view that we have found to be most beneficial is looking at the enterprise, but most importantly, the business development organization within that enterprise which is comprised of both marketing and sales, and looking at the people. First and foremost, that’s the most important asset that we have at the end of the day or the human resources that are the people that are making things happen through their actions, positioning, qualifying, prospecting, proposing and closing new business, but we want to make sure we also are putting the right people in the right roles to maximize their capability in terms of where they are in their development, whether it be through experience or expertise, their gifts and their talents.


                          And the second thing that really helps organizations is having a defined sales process that’s documented. We find that to be a great failing, and even some very, very large organizations fail to have a sales process. The great thing about having a process that has discrete steps, moreover you can measure it and being able to measure it, we can actually manage it. But most importantly is being able to teach people this is how we sell what we sell. That process is the guide and the road map to do that. And the main thing about a process is it’s extremely difficult to scale and grow and organization without the process.

                          The last area we look at is technology, and we look at technology as a force multiplier and enabler. Unfortunately, we find a lot of people that think technology is a magic silver bullet if you will. It’s almost a perception of being an autopilot. And we see a lot of companies that are failing as a result of that reliance on that, which does not align with the processes and the people then become frustrated and fail to perform at the top level.

Scott:                 Yeah, it’s interesting to hear you say that because we do a lot of work with enterprise companies, large software companies, information technologies, those type of things, and I won’t mention the company by name, but there’s this one company that we’ve done business with where every six months they are changing. So they are changing their sales structure, they are changing the coverage model, changing their sales process. They have a tendency to do that in silos, so they don’t think in terms of how we do with our ESP model where you have these seven different points of view or seven different lenses that work in coordination with each other. So as you’re going through and doing this, you need to think in terms of not just changing one thing, but looking at it more holistically.

Tim:                   Right. And I think just to pick up on that if I may briefly Scott is in terms of the ESP model itself, the enterprise sales predictability models. We have seven points of view or what we call the seven lenses of enterprise sales predictability, and many of those you just touched on, and that’s the sales organization, how we are structured depending upon what we sell and how we sell it. Number two is making sure that we have the right people and the right roles with the right skills and capabilities, supporting them with that sales process that we already talked about, and with that then, we have the ability to develop sales intelligence or defining the key performance indicators or KPIs that will really allow people to know if we take this action, this will be the result with ever increasing predictability.

                           And then the other thing that really helps in that is making sure that we are designing our incentives for incentive compensation and the establishment of quotas, so it aligns with what we are trying to achieve, not only at the overall top line objective for the enterprise, but also they can be broken down to the discrete level for the individual so that they see that they have the ability to not only achieve quota, but exceed quota, and that there are rewards associated with that.

                           And then the last one of course would be the tools and technology we already talked about which includes a wide range of things from your CRM system, but also now we’re seeing great advances and a lot of online coaching capabilities, incentive compensation management, the ability for salespeople to see and plan and predict their activities that will result in increasing sales, and allow the organization to have greater visibility into all the activities that are going on and then we can look at that, where are we relative to what our prediction is, and then we increase the quality, and more importantly, reliability of the forecast that we talked about earlier.


Stephanie:         You know, this all seems so logical, but I would imagine putting that into place is a lot harder than it sounds or everyone would be doing it, right? Tim, how can our listeners take what you and Scott have talked about and put this into practice.

Tim:                   Well, it’s really not that difficult, Stephanie, but let’s make sure that we’re answering the question and that we’re delivering value in that. Number one is first of all recognizing that we need to make a change. What has gotten us to where we are today is not going to be sufficient in order to allow us to move to where we want to be aspirationally in terms of growth. So having a learner’s attitude combined with curiosity, and also the open-mindedness and willingness to be that conscious incompetent if you will, recognizing that I’m a conscious incompetent, that I need to look at some best practices, that there are tools, that there are technologies, and there are abilities that I may not possess today to help me do that. So that’s probably the biggest one.

Scott:                 Let me just jump in real quick. One thing I’d say with that, because I’ve—I’m not embarrassed to say it. I’ve failed at this various times in my career, and the biggest thing that I would recommend to people as I’m trying to become more effective in their predictions and provide greater visibility and all this is in addition to what Tim is saying about having a life-long learner attitude and being open to change is you need to start with a framework in mind, and that’s why we think this ESP model is so powerful is that is the road map if you will to make sure that the boundaries under which you can operate, and then don’t get overwhelmed by the fact that there are a thousand different things you can do. Start with one area and just get good at that one area, or start with all seven of the different areas, and find one thing inside of all those different areas to work on, but be consistent in just working on something and make it habitual so that your company culture and your leadership style is reinforcing that we are changing and we are going to get better, but it will take time.


Tim:                   Right. And making the decision and the commitment as an organization that we are going to move forward, and whether that be in a crawl-walk-run approach, it’s the commitment to the end state or however we’ll define sales success that’s really what’s most important.

Stephanie:         That’s really good advice and now that you put it that way, it sounds like none of our listeners should have any excuse other than to increase their visibility, reliability and predictability of sales.

                          Well, it looks like we’re just about out of time and I would like to thank both you and Scott and Tim for joining us today to discuss and share your experience and best practices for sales.

                          We hope you enjoyed the session and look forward to seeing you on our next podcast as we continue our journey through the world of sales. Until next time, this is Stephanie Jordan wishing you the best of sales.

For more information on Revenade’s enterprise sales predictability model, or to see a transcript of this podcast, visit our website at You can also find free best practices on our YouTube channel.